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Wine & Cheese Pairing at Ferrari-Carano

Ferrari-Carano Winery

We visited Healdsburg, California in Sonoma County with the goal of experiencing  Wow! combinations of specific wines and specific cheeses … and we found two Wow! pairings that we want to tell you about. By the way, if you hadn’t guessed, we define a Wow! pairing as one that you find so enjoyable you involuntarily say “Wow!” during the tasting process, usually because (1) there is perfect harmony between the wine and the cheese; they are in balance with no battle for taste dominance by the wine or the cheese, (2) there is a pronounced enhancement of either the flavor of the wine by the cheese, or of the cheese by the wine, or (3) there is a new taste surprise from the interaction with ongoing bursts of new flavor sensations and lingering pleasant aftertaste.

Chris Wippert & Kat Zaneline at Oakville Grocery

The Cheeses

We began our adventure at the downtown plaza in Healdsburg where we purchased a chunk of Carmody cheese at Oakville Grocery at the corner of Matheson Street and Center Street. Oakville Grocery has a very good selection of domestic cheeses and Kat Zaneline and Chris Wippert know their cheeses and make great recommendations. Then we drove north on Healdsburg Ave. to Big John’s Market at the corner of Healdsburg Avenue and Dry Creek Road where we bought Pierre Robert cheese. The cheesemonger there is Mike Haney who is very knowledgable abount all of their enormous offering of imported and domestic cheeses.

Amazing cheeses at Big John’s Market, Healdsburg

The Wines

Next we drove west to the Ferrari-Carano winery at 8761 Dry Creek Road where Jacqueline Denier and John Daniels served tastings of four excellent wines: 2007 Chardonnay, Carneros appellation; 2008 Viognier, Alexander Valley appellation; 2007 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley appellation; and 2005 Sangiovese, Alexander Valley appellation.

Ferrari-Carano tasting room at 8761 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg

The Wow! Pairings

We savored all of the wines, paired them all with the two cheeses we had with us, and discovered two Wow! combinations … one for each of us. Here they are:

Norm’s Wow! pairing was the Pierre Robert triple-cream cheese (made by Fromagerie Rouzaire in France) interacting with the 2008 Viognier’s floral, citrus and oak aromas and flavor. The combination produced a pleasant peppery new flavor with a long, evolving aftertaste including surprising new taste bursts.

Barbara’s Wow! pairing was the Pierre Robert cheese with the 2007 Chardonnay with it’s oaky, creamy aromas and flavors. The combination was in perfect balance, a completely harmonious and pleasing sensation.

We also picked up some expert recommendations for future pairings. Jacqueline Denier said that a double-cream Gouda paired with the Ferrari-Carano 2007 Chardonnay is a Wow! combination for her. And Mike Haney opined that the Pierre Robert cheese pairs extremely well with Champagne or Sauternes.

The Wow! Search Continues

John Daniels at Ferrari-Carano Winery

You may wonder why we embarked on this very pleasant project of searching for Wow! pairings. It all started when we authored and published Wine & Cheese Pairing Guide: Your Exciting Search for Wow! Combinations.  We knew we thoroughly enjoyed good wines and good cheeses. After extensive research and experimentation we published our award-winning guidebook that features Wine Basics, Cheese Basics, Pairing Basics, Pairing Recommendations (Cheese & Wine Pairing Recommendations and Wine & Cheese Pairing Recommendations), and a programmed journal where you can fill in information describing your tastings in “My Favorite Pairings.” Of course, we are using this book and find it invaluable as we continue our very enjoyable search for Wow! combinations.

Your Wow! Pairings

Have you discovered your Wow! pairing of a wine and a cheese? Since there are more than a thousand wines and a thousand cheeses in the world, the number of combinations is mind-boggling — literally over a million potential combinations. And don’t forget … since everyone has a unique set of taste buds and olfactory nerve cells, the perfect pairings of wines and cheeses are ultimately a matter of personal experience. There are no wrong answers. If it a Wow! to you, then it is a Wow! combination.

Cheers!

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Wine & Cheese Pairings in Ashland, Oregon

Mt. Shasta viewed from rest stop in Weed, California

The unique, Shakespeare-oriented town of Ashland, Oregon was where we enjoyed another quest for Wow! pairings of specific wineries’ wines with specific cheeses. We chose to savor our wine and cheese pairings on a sunny pond-side bench in the beautifully landscaped Lithia Park which lies between picturesque Lithia Creek and the three dramatic theatres of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Previously, at the Ashland Food Co-op (237 North First Street) we purchased two amazing Rogue Valley wines and three artisan cheeses by Oregon cheesemakers.

The Wine

We chose Daisy Creek Vineyard’s 2007 Viognier and the Cowhorn Vineyard 2007 Syrah. Both of these award-winning wineries are in historic Jacksonville, Oregon a few miles from Ashland and a fun place to visit.

The Cheese

Elizabethan Theatre in Ashland

We paired five cheeses with the two wines : Rogue Creamery’s Oregon Blue and Smokey Blue; Oak Leaf Creamery’s Tomme; and a Swiss and a Cheddar that we purchased from the Greenleaf
Restaurant deli counter (49 N. Main St.)

Our Wow! Combinations

As we sat on our bench watching the resident Mallard ducks float and swim, we swirled, sniffed and sipped the special wines, savored the delicious cheeses, and then recorded our various responses to these combinations. Predictably, we discovered several Wow! experiences.

(Remember there are no “wrong answers” in Wow! pairings. One person’s individual taste buds, olfactory sensors, and mind-state can produce a Wow! response to the interaction of a specific wine with a specific cheese while another person may not get a Wow! experience from that combination, but does find a Wow! effect from a completely different wine and cheese pairing.)

Barbara, Norm and daughter Rhonda all experienced “Wow!” sensations with the combination  of the Swiss cheese and the Viognier. It’s a perfect pairing with both wine and cheese light and refreshing; excellently balanced so the flavors of the cheese and the wine were maintained as the fruitiness of the is classic Viognier complimented the mild, smoothness of the American cow’s milk cheese.

Norm experienced a Wow! in the combination of the Syrah and the raw, cow/goat milk Oregon Blue cheese. The cheese and wine enhanced each other with a pleasing balanced new flavor created by their magical interaction on the palate. The velvety, intense, full-bodied Syrah played perfecty with the pungent, sharp and tangy flavor of the cheese, forming a new intriguing flavor and a lingering, satisfying aftertaste.

Rhonda exclaimed “Wow!: when she combined the Tomme cheese with the Viognier as she enjoyed a progressive sensation of buttery, creamy, almondness. Barbara also was intrigued by the almond/lychee flavors that evolved in this remarkable pairing.

Barbara said “Wow!” when she paired the Syrah with the Smokey Blue cheese, describing a distinctive lingering pepper flavor that developed as the bold, pungency of the cheese worked with the full-bodied Syrah for a very dramatic sensation.

Rhonda described another “Wow!” when the Viognier pleasantly enhanced the smokiness of the Smokey Blue cheese. Having expected that the sharpness of the cheese would overpower the fruity wine, she found instead that the combination resulted the exceptional smokey flavor especially on the sides of her tongue and the back of her mouth. It’s great fun to find a surprise “Wow!”

On to future Wow! pairing discoveries

So that’s our report on this venture. We are thoroughly enjoying our visits to wineries and cheesemakers/cheese vendors and picturesque locations for our tasting experiences, and we hope you are also venturing to find your Wow! combinations. When you do, please let us know what you have discovered.

Cheers!

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Wine & Cheese Pairings at Grgich Hills in Napa Valley

This report to you is about our venture seeking Wow! pairings of another specific winery’s wines with cheeses from another specific cheese vendor. We visited the Napa Valley and paired exquisite wines from Grgich Hills Estate with three imported cheeses purchased not far from the winery. Here are the highlights of this step in our quest for pairings that give our taste buds and olfactory nerve cells that exhilarating experience of Wow! This wine and cheese combination is fantastic!

Buying cheese in St. Helena, California

We began our adventure along the St. Helena Highway portion of Highway 29 where we stopped at Dean & Deluca (607 So. St. Helena Highway) to purchase some imported cheeses: Asiago D’Allevo (Italy), Brillat Savarin (France), and Abbaye de Belloc (French Pyrenees). Dean & Deluca has an impressive selection of cheeses and Shannon Thorne and Marcus Johnson gave us excellent recommendations while considering the Grgich Hills Estate wines we were soon to enjoy.

Marcus Johnson at Dean & Deluca, St. Helena

Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford, California

Heading south on Highway 29, we soon arrived at the Grgich Hills Estate winery at 1829 St. Helena Highway in Rutherford. We were greeted by  Tasting Room Manager Betsy Van Dyne who served us a wonderful array of exceptional wines. As a bonus, Wine Club Manager Bob During also stopped by to say hello.

As we swirled, sniffed and sipped the elegant 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay and the 2006 Carneros Selection Chardonnay, we recalled the magical story of the historic 1976 Paris Tasting where a blind-tasting competition revolutionized the world’s wine industry as little-known wines from California’s Napa Valley surprised the world by winning the top rating over the best world-class French wines. All of the esteemed judges, who were French wine experts, were astounded at the exceptional quality of the California wines and were shocked that they had rated the California wines as superior to their beloved French wines. This story is appropro because the winning white wine in that competition was the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that was crafted by the same Mike Grgich (then Chateau Montelena’s young winemaker — have you seen the 2008 movie Bottle Shock? — who partnered with Austin Hills and Mary Lee (of the Hills Bros. Coffee family) to found Grgich Hills Estate in 1977. Mike, enjoying acclaim as the creator of the 1976 Paris Tasting’s best Chardonnay, was obviously winemaker in that new Grgich Hills venture.

Bob During & Betsy Van Dyne

Grgich Hills Chardonnays have consistently been recognized for high quality. In 1980, “The Great Chicago Showdown” brought 221 Chadonnays together for the largest blind tasting ever held of wines of a single varietal. Guess who won the first place ribbon … Grgich Hills 1977 Chardonnay crafted by Mike Grgich, who soon would be affectionately known as the “King of Chardonnay.” And in 1982, President Reagan selected the 1979 Grgich Hills Chardonnay to serve to French President Mitterrand at the U.S. Embassy in France.

Great stories, great history!

More to appreciate about Grgich Hills Estate    

By the way, all Grgich Hills Estate vineyards are certified organic and Biodynamic® by Demeter Association. This holistic farming practice uses the earth’s natural cycles and organic preparations to grow balanced, healthy vines without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides.

Our Wow! combinations discovered in our current venture

In addition to the Chardonnays we mentioned above, Betsy Van Dyne served us tastings of the 2008 “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley appellation; 2008 Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley appellation; 2006 Petite Sirah, Miljenko’s Vineyard, Napa Valley appellation; 2007 Zinfandel, Napa Valley appellation; 2005 Merlot, Napa Valley appellation; 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley appellation; and 2006 Violetta, Napa Valley appellation.

We savored and thoroughly enjoyed each of these wines, paired them all with the three cheeses we had with us, and discovered several Wow! combinations that we want to tell you about. Here they are:

Norm and Barbara both experienced “Wow!” interaction of the rich, creamy Abbaye de Belloc sheep’s-milk cheese and the 2008 “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc’s floral, citrus, fruity aromas and flavors. The combination produced perfectly balanced taste sensations with a special long, evolving aftertaste.

Barbara found a Wow! pairing of the Brillat Savarin triple-creme, extremely buttery cow’s-milk cheese with the 2005 Merlot (aged two years in Oak barrels plus two years in bottles) with it’s mouth-coating flavors of plums and cocoa. The combination was completely harmonious and extremely pleasing.

Norm’s next Wow! pairing was the sharp, salty, granular Asiago d’Allevo cow’s-milk cheese with the full-bodied 2006 Petite Sirah with it’s blackberry and roasted coffee flavors. The combination of flavors of the wine and the cheese evolved into a dramatic cherry, which was a fun surprise and very rewarding effect.

Another surprising taste combination where Norm and Barbara both expressed “Wow!” was pairing the Abbaye de Belloc triple-creme cheese with the 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. We anticipated that the elegant, bold wine would overpower the creamy, brie-style cheese, but instead, we found that the wine enlivened the cheese flavors and the combination produced a long-lasting, luxurious aftertaste.

Another Wow! recommendation

Betsy Van Dyne indicated that a Wow! combination for her is pairing a creamy Gorgonzola cheese with the Grgich Hills Estate 2006 Violetta, which is a unique late-harvest dessert wine that is made from a field blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Betsy says this incredible wine’s flavors of peaches, honey and almonds result in a Wow! experience for her when combined with the blue, sharp gorgonzola. This is an intriguing recommendation for us all.

On to future Wow! pairing discoveries

So that’s our report on this venture. It’s great fun to experiment with a variety of wines and cheeses to find combinations that give us that Wow! experience. In our book Wine & Cheese Pairing Guide: Your Exciting Search for Wow! Combinations we present details of 150 wines and 340 cheeses of the world. That’s over 50,000 potential pairings for all of us to explore. And if you want an even bigger challenge, since there are more than 1000 wines and 1000 cheeses in the world today (that’s more than a million potential pairings), go for it!

It’s also a lot of fun to visit specific wineries and specific cheesemakers/cheese vendors in their picturesque locations. Yes, we highly recommend a day trip or weekend getaway focused on finding your special Wow! wine and cheese pairings. When you do, please let us know what you have discovered by leaving a comment for us.

Here’s to your exhiliarating quest!

We will keep you posted on our future ventures to find more Wow! wine and cheese pairings.

 

 

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Wine & Cheese Pairings at Coppola Winery

We ventured to the Frances Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, California to search for Wow! pairings of Coppola wines and three cheeses we had brought with us. On the grounds of the winery we enjoyed the beautiful outdoor patio near the dramatic curving-stairway leading from the parking area to the tasting room and guest services area. At a small outdoor table, Barbara, Norm and daughter Cynthia savored Wow! combinations of Coppola wines and the cheeses.

The winery grounds and guest areas are spectacular, as you would expect of a Frances Ford Coppola production. In the tasting room and restaurant areas are rooms and hallways filled with props, pictures, oscars, Tucker car, etc. from various Coppola movies. The lavish swimming pool and pavilion are beautiful and cater to visiting families.

Stairway to family fun

Here are the highlights of this venture in our ongoing quest for those pairings that give our taste buds and olfactory nerve cells that exhilarating experience of “Wow! This wine and cheese combination is fantastic!”

The Cheese

We began our adventure at Trader Joe’s grocery store in Santa Rosa where we purchased three excellent, intriguing cheeses:

(1) a Dutch goat’s milk cheese (Potatoes Au Gratin).

(2) an Italian sheep’s milk cheese (Italian Rustico)

(3) a cow’s milk cheese, (six-month aged Gruyere)

The Wine

Heading north on Highway 101, we took the Independence Avenue freeway exit in Geyserville which put us within a few yards of the archway entrance to the Coppola winery. With the assistance of Coppola tasting room expert Lori Reed, we selected three wines to pair with the cheeses:

(1) Francis Coppola Diamond Collection 2008 Pinot Grigio with its pear and citrus aromas and flavors of green apples, pink grapefruit and minerals.

(2) Francis Coppola Reserve 2007 Syrah (Mounts Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley) which is co-fermented with 3% Viognier to lift the aromatics and help accentuate it’s bright magenta color. This is a smooth, rich, alluring wine with gratifying flavors of black cherries, raspberries and plums accented with some smokiness, cloves and anise.

(3) 2006 Archimedes, a robust intriguing blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley grapes and 24% Cabernet Franc from Knights Valley grapes grown at the foot of Mount St. Helena. Incredibly smooth with intense aromas of dark sour cherries, cranberries and sandalwood with a very nice spiciness.

Tasting room expert Lori Reed

Our Wow! Combinations

We always want to remind you that there are no “wrong answers” in Wow! pairings. One person’s individual taste buds, olfactory nerve cells, and mind-state can produce a Wow! response to the interaction of specific wines with specific cheeses while another person may not get the Wow!ness of that combination, but does experience a Wow! effect from a completely different wine and cheese pairing. Therefore, all of your experiences of Wow! pairings are valid.

Norm, Barbara and Cindy each experienced “Wow!” interactions in our pairings:

(1) Barbara said “Wow!” to the Italian Rustico sheep’s milk, creamy, smooth, full-flavored cheese with a hint of lemon paired with the Pinot Grigio. Her experience was that the wine and cheese “totally complemented” each other. A very satisfying combination in total balance. Wow!

(2) Norm enjoyed an explosive Wow! with the combined flavor of the Archimedes wine with the Gruyere cheese. He described an accentuated cherry with a very long, pleasing after-taste. A Wow! discovery.

(3) Cynthia opined that the Dutch goat cheese Potatoes Au Gratin produced a “Zing! … explosion of a new combined flavor” that caused an involuntary “Wow!” exclamation as she savored the combination.

(4) All three of us experienced the Wow! effect of combining the Gruyere with the Syrah. For all of us the cheese enhanced the fruits of the wine and yet were perfectly complementary to each other. Three Wows! on this one.

Bonus: Dramatic Scenic Beauty

Our bonus on this venture was enjoying the spectacular vistas from the elevated winery location. The Alexander Valley spread out before us with majestic Mount St.Helena (hell-Ee-na) in the distance. Jaw-dropping beauty.

On to future Wow! pairing discoveries

So that’s our report on this venture. We continue to thoroughly enjoy our Wow! pairings of specific wineries’ wines with specific cheesemakers/cheese vendors’ cheeses as we experience these pairings in picturesque locations around the country. Once again we encourage you to enjoy and explore pairings at your favorite scenic sites, to new beautiful and exotic locations, or at a party in your home. Wherever you and your family and friends experience special Wow! wine and cheese pairings, we would enjoy hearing from you about them.

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Wine & Cheese Pairings at Glacier Point in Yosemite

Nevada Fall & Vernal Fall viewed from Glacier Point

We enjoyed our latest quest for Wow! pairings of specific wineries’ wines with specific cheeses as we also savored the spectacular views from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. This time our approach was to purchase two flavorful wines from the Curry Village Store, which we paired with three delicious cheeses purchased from two stores in Sonoma County: Raley’s Supermarket in Windsor and COSTCO in Santa Rosa. Of course we kept the cheeses and wines at cool temperatures until the unveiling and pairing 3200 feet above Yosemite Valley with Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and much of the spectacular valley floor in easy view.

As a special bonus, daughter Rhonda, her daughter Serena, and hubby Anthony joined in this spectacular tasting.

Here are the highlights of this venture as we continue to experiment in pairings, looking for those that give us that exhilarating experience of “Wow!, this wine and cheese combination is fantastic!” We hope that you are finding your “Wow!” pairings too.

Buying wine

We bought two wines in Yosemite: 2008 Delicato Family Vineyards Shiraz (vinted and bottled in Manteca, California in San Joaquin County), and 2009 “Yosemite” Chardonnay which was produced and bottled by Chateau Lasgoity in Madera, California in Madera County.

Tasting at Glacier Point

Cheese

The three cheeses we sampled with these two wines were the following: Kerrygold Swiss (from Ireland}; Bel Gioioso Sharp Provolone (crafted in Wisconsin); and Cotswold Double Gloucester with Minced Onion and Freeze Dried Chive (from England).

Our Wow! combinations discovered in our current venture to Yosemite National Park

As we sat on granite benches at Glacier Point, we all swirled, sniffed and sipped these special wines, savored these delicious cheeses, and then recorded our various responses to these combinations. We discovered several Wow! experiences.

Fanny pack for wines and cheeses

(As we have mentioned in previous venture reports, there are no “wrong answers” in Wow! pairings. One person’s individual taste buds, olfactory nerve cells, and mind-state can produce a Wow! response to the interaction of specific wines with specific cheeses while another person may not get a Wow! experience from that combination, but does find a Wow! effect from a completely different wine and cheese pairing. In other words, all of your Wow! pairings are valid.)

Barbara experienced two “Wow!” interactions both with the sweet nutty taste of the Swiss cheese with first the subtle flavors of the Chardonnay and then with the Shiraz with its complex aromas of spice, blackberry and cherry and lingering finish with some spice and oak nuances . Barbara described the interaction of the Swiss cheese with the Shiraz as producing a buttery new combined flavor and an interesting effervescence at the back of her tongue.

Norm’s two Wow!’s were the combination of the Chardonnay with the Swiss cheese, which formed a perfect balance of parallel flavors; and the Shiraz with the Cotswold cheese which also created a very pleasing balance with a soft mouthfeel and lingering, satisfying aftertaste.

Rhonda’s most dramatic Wow! combination was the Shiraz with the Cotswold cheese. She enjoyed an exciting long-lasting aftertaste of a new evolving flavor.

Serena’s favorite pairing that gave her a Wow! sensation was the Shiraz with the Swiss cheese. The wine dramatically enhanced, but did not overpower, the smooth, subtle cow’s milk cheese and produced a well-balanced taste sensation.

Anthony’s Wow! combination was the Shiraz with the Sharp Provolone cheese. He described a new tangy flavor from the interaction of wine and cheese, and he enjoyed a pleasing aftertaste that lingered.

It is interesting to note that all five of us thoroughly enjoyed the Chardonnay and Cotswold cheese combination which yielded a variety of new intriguing flavors.

On to future Wow! pairing discoveries

So that’s our report on this venture. We are thoroughly enjoying our visits to wineries and cheesemakers/cheese vendors and picturesque locations for our tasting experiences, and we hope that you are also venturing to find your special Wow! wine and cheese pairings. When you do, let us know what you have discovered.

Here’s to your exhilarating quest!

 

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Wine & Cheese Pairings Venture to Marin County & Sonoma Coast

Beautiful Sonoma Coast

Our latest venture seeking Wow! pairings of specific wineries’ wines with specific cheeses unexpectedly turned into a delightful two-day event. This time our approach was to purchase three superb wines from the domestic wine section of our local CVS store, which we paired with six delicious cheeses purchased at two artisan cheesemakers in Marin County.

Then, with wines and cheeses secured in a cooler, we drove north on Highway 1, enjoying magnificent views of Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean, to Sonoma County.

Just north of Portuguese Beach we pulled off the road and walked down an easily accessible, flower studded path to a quiet, unnamed beach. There, we watched the sun set over graceful waves, breathed deeply of the salt air, and enjoyed part one of our wine and cheese pairing.

We decided to have another tasting of the same wines and cheeses the next day at home to answer a question that came to us while we were at the beach: “Had the salt air at the beach modified our tasting sensations? Will the wines, cheeses, and pairings taste the same at home?”
As a special bonus, several family members joined in the at-home tasting and described their Wow! pairings, too.

Here are the highlights of this venture in our quest for pairings that give our taste buds and olfactory nerve cells that exhilarating experience of “Wow!, this wine and cheese combination is fantastic!”

Buying wine

Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes Station

We began our adventure with the following wines: Clos du Bois 2007 California Riesling (off-dry style with aromas and flavors of fruits, floral & citrus), Kenwood Vineyard 2009 Sonoma County Chardonnay (complex fruit & oak), and Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2007 California Meritage (intriguing blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec & Cabernet Franc).

Buying cheese

Heading west from Highway 101, we passed through beautiful hills and valleys of farmland pastures and soon arrived at Marin French Cheese Company at 7500 Red Hill Road in Petaluma. Also known as The Cheese Factory, and as Rouge et Noir, this historical artisan cheesemaker has been handcrafting soft-ripened cheese since 1865.

In the cheesemaker’s store we were greeted by Elizabeth Delgado who described and served us a flavorful array of cheese samples. For our soon-to-be pairings we decided on the soft, creamy, cow’s milk Camembert and Le Petit Bleu, a cow’s milk triple-crème brie with blue veins. For an extra treat, we also purchased three containers of delicious Quark (soft curd cheese flavored with wild blackberry, strawberry, and jalapeño) to enjoy at home, spooned directly from the package or spread on crackers, bagels and toast.

Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes Station, California
Again heading west, we soon arrived at Cowgirl Creamery at 80 Fourth Street in Point Reyes Station and as we entered the building we were treated to a view of artisan cheesemakers at work fine-tuning curds and whey while hand-mixing that stage of the cheesemaking process. We then met Cheesemonger/Manager Michael Zilber who

Michael Zilber & Jennifer Luttrell at Cowgirl Creamery

gave us fascinating insight into the Cowgirl Creamery cheeses as well as general artisan cheesemaking philosophy. Cheesemonger Jennifer Luttrell served us mouth-watering samples and we purchased the following cheeses made from the Straus Family Dairy organic cows’ milk: Mt. Tam (smooth, creamy, elegant triple-crème cheese ), Red Hawk (hearty flavored, triple-crème with brine-washed-rind), & Batch 35 (mild, Asiago-type table cheese). “Batch 35” refers to the current iteration in the 2010 version of what will be Wagon Wheel cheese when it is released in June.
We also purchased some Inverness cheese, which is a surface-ripened-rind cheese with a tangy, dense, creamy mouth feel. This cheese is made from John Taverna’s Chileno Valley Jersey Dairy cows’ milk.

Making Red Hawk cheese

Our Wow! combinations discovered in our current venture to Marin County and the Sonoma County coast
As we sat near the ocean waves and swirled, sniffed and sipped these elegant wines, savored these delicious cheeses, and then tested our responses to the various combinations, we discovered four Wow! experiences that we want to tell you about.
(As an aside, there are no “wrong answers” in Wow! pairings. One person’s individual taste buds, olfactory nerve cells, and mind-state can produce a Wow! response to the interaction of specific wines with specific cheeses while another person may not get the Wow!ness of that combination, but does experience a Wow! effect from a completely different wine and cheese pairing. Therefore, all Wow! pairings are valid.)

Ready for tasting on the beach

Norm and Barbara each experienced two “Wow!” interactions in pairings near the ocean: Barbara’s were (1) Le Petit Bleu cheese paired with the Meritage wine and (2) the Red Hawk cheese with the Riesling. Barbara described the interaction as producing an exciting, long-lasting, spicy effervescence. Norm’s Wow!’s were for (1) the Camembert with the Chardonnay which formed a perfect balance of parallel flavors and (2) Le Petit Bleu with the Chardonnay which created a very pleasing immediate new flavor with a long evolving aftertaste.

Our Wow! combinations discovered at home the next day with several family members
By the way, in repeating the pairings at home (35 miles east of the ocean), Norm & Barbara concluded that the ambient salt air at the ocean had not appreciably altered our tasting experiences. One exception was that the Chardonnay alone in the salt air seemed to be without complexity, but away from the salt air the wine was abundantly complex.

Here are some Wow! pairings that we discovered at home:
Norm: Camembert with the Chardonnay produced a surprising and rich new nutty taste sensation. Wow!
Barbara: Inverness with the Chardonnay evolved into a luxurious creaminess melting on the tongue at the front of the mouth. Wow!
Rhonda: Mt. Tam with the Chardonnay created a dramatic, mouth-coating taste explosion at the back of the mouth. Wow!
Cynthia: Batch 35 (aka Wagon Wheel) with the Riesling enlivened a new extremely-pleasing buttery flavor. Wow!
Serena: Le Petit Bleu with the Meritage. The wine dramatically enhanced the butteriness of the cheese for an exquisite taste sensation. Wow!
David: Mt. Tam with the Meritage were perfectly balanced taste sensations with a special long-pleasing aftertaste.
Another Wow! recommendation

Michael Zilber indicated that a Wow! combination for him is pairing Red Hawk cheese with Sauternes, which produces a completely harmonious tasting experience.

Bonus: A terrific restaurant in Jenner, California
After our pairing venture at the ocean, we craved a good clam chowder before heading home. We set our sights on Jenner with the hope of finding a purveyor of clam chowder … and MUCH to our delight, we discovered Jenner Bistro (Jenner Inn & Cottages, 10400 Coast Route 1) whose chef and restaurant manager Helena Giesea welcomed us, even though we were there before she officially opened the restaurant for dinner service. Helena served us a wonderful white clam chowder with roasted vegetables and other creative ingredients and flavors, scrumptious, freshly baked breads, tempura fruit & vegetables, and an exotic, curry-enhanced chicken and noodles entrée. Another Wow! experience.

On to future Wow! pairing discoveries
So that’s our report on this venture. We are thoroughly enjoying our visits to wineries and cheesemakers/cheese vendors in their picturesque locations, and we continue to encourage you to try your own ventures focused on finding your special Wow! wine and cheese pairings. When you do, please let us know what you have discovered by leaving a comment for us.

Here’s to your exhilarating quest!

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Wine & Cheese Pairings at Pedroncelli Winery

Pedroncelli Winery

Thank you Julie Pedroncelli and Jon Brown for inviting us to be part of Pedroncelli Winery’s annual Holiday Open House in their wonderfully intimate tasting room in Geyserville, California. We had a great time greeting Pedroncelli’s tasting room visitors and “coaching” them as they experimented with pairing three of Pedroncelli’s sixteen impressive wines in combination with four excellent local artisan cheeses and one imported cave-aged cheese from Switzerland.

In this report we will tell you about Wow! pairings discovered by visitors to Pedroncelli Winery during these two party-atmosphere days. In other words, we had a lot of fun, sharing the insights about cheeses, wines, tasting techniques, and pairing techniques from our book Wine & Cheese Pairing Guide: Your Exciting Search for Wow! Combinations. We took notes of nearly 200 comments about the tasting experiences expressed as guests tried various combinations of the wines and cheeses. There were many Wow! experiences described to us and, of course, the variety of wines paired with the variety of cheeses produced the Wow! exclamation from a variety of people. Yes, it is fun to experiment and discover YOUR Wow! combinations. As we like to say, with over 1000 wines in the world and over 1000 cheeses, that makes over a million potential pairings.

We continually assured Pedroncelli Winery visitors that there are no wrong answers since each person’s taste buds, olfactory senses, and state-of-mind are different; so a Wow! discovery for one person may not register that way by someone else whose Wow! may be a completely different wine-cheese combination.

The Cheese

The five excellent, intriguing cheeses:

(1) Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery at Point Reyes Station, California. Smooth, elegant, triple creme, cow’s milk cheese.

(2) Laura Chenel’s Chabis from Sonoma, California: A fresh goat’s milk cheese with mild flavor and spreadable texture.

(3) Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove Chevre in Arcata, California. Elegant, soft, surface ripened cheese which is creamy with a subtle tangy flavor. It features a ribbon of edible vegetable ash in its center and a coating of ash under its exterior rind. A distinctive ripened goat’s milk cheese.

“The combination dances in my mouth. I like it a lot!”

(4) Toma from Point Reyes Farmstead (California): A unique farmstead semi-hard cheese from the milk of cows that graze on Certified-Organic pastures. Creamy texture, buttery flavor and subtle, grassy tang finish.

(5) Cave-Aged Gruyere imported from Lucerne, Switzerland: A rich, spicy firm cow’s milk cheese that’s slightly salty and spicy, yet sweet with interesting complexity.

The Wine

(1) Pedroncelli 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, East Side Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Made from grapes grown in a perfect vineyard microclimate for Sauvignon Blanc (maximum sun exposure plus fog and excellent soil). The resulting wine is very aromatic with citrus and herbaceous notes. It is crisp and has many layers of flavor, including honeydew melon, grapefruit and tart apple.

(2) Pedroncelli 2008 Zinfandel Mother Clone, Dry Creek Valley. Grapes from 100-year-old “Mother” vines blended with grapes from 50-year-old vines (95% Zinfandel) and 5% Petite Sirah (which provide nice color and tannin) resulted in a full bodied and intense classic Dry Creed Valley wine. Aromas of ripe blackberry and spice, jammy fruit flavors, subtle black pepper and a long, lush finish are exquisite.

(3) Pedroncelli 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Three Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley. This rich, full-flavored blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec is highlighted by bright acidity to showcase the fruit of plum, raspberry and cherry, toasted oak notes and warm clove spice.

Wow! Combinations

Our estimate is that we conversed with about 200 people about pairing these wines and cheeses. As we encouraged visitors to experiment with different combinations of wines and cheeses, and to tell us about their experiences, we enjoyed discussing the various sensations and evaluations with them. Here are some of the many Wow! pairing comments by visitors that we jotted down. It was particularly fun when a venturer would try a specific wine with a specific cheese and involuntarily exclaim “Wow!” — a scenario that happened many times.

(1) A visitor pairing the Zinfandel with the Toma cheese said she got a Wow! sensation from the “burst of flavor” she experienced.

(2) Another visitor had a Wow! sensation from pairing the Gruyere cheese with the Sauvignon Blanc. An explosive Wow! with the combined flavor of the wine with cheese. He described an accentuated cherry with a very long, pleasing after-taste. A Wow! discovery.

(3) In pairing the Sauvignon Blanc with the Toma, one venturer said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

(4) One person said the Zinfandel with the Gruyere gave her an elongated new flavor … pleasingly spicey.

(5) An enthusiastic lady combining the Zinfandel with the Humboldt Fog simply said, “I Love It!” That was obviously a Wow! experience for her.

(6) When he paired the Sauvignon Blanc with the Gruyere, one man opined that the cheese added more zest to the wine, producing an effervescent mouthtaste.

(7) Another person found a Wow! in combining the Cabernet Sauvignon with the Humboldt Fog. He said both wine and cheese were bold and worked well together to produce a very interesting flavor.

(8) The Sauvignon Blanc with the Humboldt Fog led one woman to exclaim, “The combination dances in my mouth. I like it a lot!”

(9) “Excellent balance. Both strong with long aftertaste” was a lady’s evaluation of her Wow! experience from pairing the Zinfandel with the Humboldt Fog.

(10) In pairing the Sauvignon Blanc with the Chevre, this man found a nice balance with the wine and cheese both maintaining their flavors, with a lingering pleasing aftertaste.

(11) Another visitor said the Zinfandel with the Chevre was a Wow! with “just the right balance”.

(12) In combining the Cabernet Sauvignon with the Toma, a man described his Wow! as “the cheese softened the wine and produced a good integration of flavors.”

(13) “Balanced perfectly, wine acidity offset by the cheese,” declared a woman pairing the Cabernet Sauvignon with the Mt. Tam

(14) “Wow!, that’s good!” was the exclamation of a lady pairing the Zinfandel with the Mt. Tam

(15) One visitor pairing the Sauvignon Blanc with the Toma had a one-word description of his experience: “Awesome!”

Summary of Wow! Experiences

The notes we took regarding our fellow-venturers’ descriptions of their experiences demonstrates that sharing the search for Wow! combinations is great fun because everyone can enjoy different pairings with a variety of taste sensations. Here is a recap of most of the Wow! comments on these two days with these enthusiastic visitors:

Sauvignon Blanc with Gruyere = 27
Sauvignon Blanc with Humboldt Fog = 18
Zinfandel with Toma = 16
Cabernet Sauvignon with Gruyere= 14
Zinfandel with Gruyere = 12
Zinfandel with Humboldt Fog = 12
Cabernet Sauvignon with Toma = 12
Sauvignon Blanc with Mt. Tam = 12
Sauvignon Blanc with Toma = 10
Cabernet Sauvignon with Mt. Tam = 9
Zinfandel with Chevre = 9
Cabernet Sauvignon with Humboldt Fog = 9
Zinfandel with Mt. Tam = 8
Sauvignon Blanc with Chevre = 8

On to future Wow! pairing discoveries

So there you have our report on this terrific venture. We continue to thoroughly enjoy our Wow! pairings of specific wineries’ wines with specific cheesemakers/cheese vendors’ cheeses as we experience these pairings in picturesque locations around the country. Once again we encourage you to venture to your favorite locations, to new beautiful and exotic locations, or at a party in your home. Wherever you and your family and friends experience special Wow! wine and cheese pairings, we would enjoy hearing from you about them.

Here’s to your next exhilarating quest!